Mulliner, the in-built bespoke division of Bentley, has successfully recreated their long lost yet pivotal model – the 1939 Bentley Corniche.
The history of Bentley Corniche
Not many are aware of the fact that only one version of Corniche was ever built! It was believed to bridge the gap between Classic Embiricos and R Type Continental and was expected to be a high-performance version of Bentley’s pivotal MkV luxury saloon. Bentley had planned to launch Corniche in October 1939. The Corniche was designed to be driven on the French coastal roads (the story behind the name – Corniche means “coastal road”).
In May 1939, Corniche was completed. But unfortunately, it was damaged in an accident at the time of a road test in August. The chassis was sent to Bentley’s plant for repairs. Later when the body was stored in the Dieppe port, it was completely destroyed in a German bombing raid.
The only Corniche produced was lost. However, several parts remained and Bentley could use the original spares for the continuation model.
Mulliner’s first historic car project
The recreation project started in 2001 by volunteers from the Sir Henry Royce Memorial Foundation and the WO Bentley Memorial Foundation. Subsequently, it was brought in-house about 18 months ago at the request of the new CEO Adrian Hallmark with the aim of finishing it on time for Bentley’s centenary.
The project was handed over to the Mulliner division while Bentley claims that employees from various other departments also contributed their time and ideas in the rebuilding of the Corniche. The underlying chassis seems to be an original unit from the 1939 version; but, the interior, ash frame and body are built from scratch.
The Corniche of 1939
The Corniche was designed and built as a better sporting version of the pivotal MkV saloon. The modern commuting machine was built by Pourtout, a French coachbuilder and styled by Georges Paulin. The car was designed using a lightweight chassis built from “very thin” gauge steel coupled with an upgraded version of MkV engine, much of a customized overdrive gearbox.
The Corniche was more stylish and modern compared to the earlier Bentley models. Streamlining was introduced for the first time so as to deliver greater performance and speed. Unlike a traditional Bentley’s large upright radiator, the Corniche had a smoothed nose to reduce speed. This more streamlined and smoother styling would in fact go on to influence the various post-war models right from the R Type Continental to the current Continental GT!
What’s more, the Corniche sported a number of innovative design features such as a pillar-less body provided with front and rear-hinged doors, long sweeps of the rears, and the complicated revolutionary curves of the front wings. The completed Corniche achieved over a whopping 100 mph at the Brooklands race circuit, the best ever for Bentley.
The Corniche recreation
In 2001, Ken Lea, a former director at Bentley and automotive historian, came up with the plan to recreate the Corniche with its original parts. Well, most of these parts were preserved by Bentley until 1970s. But, they were sold off to automotive enthusiasts and specialists. Volunteers began the process of collecting these parts together. It was a long process and the project eventually ran out of money.
Luckily, in the year 2008, Bentley offered funds to continue the project. Coachbuilders James and Ashley started working on the aluminium bodywork and ash frame. They made use of the outline drawing donated by the family of George Paulin, the original designer of the Corniche.
The progress of the project was not very fast until it was handed over to the Mulliner team in 2018. Not only the team members of Mulliner, but those of the wider Bentley Motors also dedicated their time and effort to recreate this iconic vehicle.
The team rebuilt the new Corniche using the original components of Corniche and mechanical components of MkV. The original technical drawings were the only source of reference. Each and every aspect of the original Corniche was recreated. Every element of the original Corniche was perfectly recreated, down to every detail. Even the Heather Grey and Imperial Maroon paint mixes were created from many hours of work at the paint laboratory.
The recreated Bentley Corniche is all set to be on display to the public at the Salon Privé at Blenheim Palace this September. The car will join the heritage fleet of Bentley which already includes the Birkin Team Blower and WO Bentley’s 8 Litre. You can soon watch the new rebuilt Corniche flaunting itself at events across the world.
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